The Dallas Stars opened their pursuit of the 2018-19 Stanley Cup last night in Nashville against the Predators. The Stars prevailed behind a superlative Miro Heiskanen performance and fantastic goaltending. In no way does a single game define a best-of-seven playoff series, but it is a data point. Stars fans starved of postseason play learned a few things last night, and those lessons could be instructive over the course of the series.
1 — Dallas Is Going To Need Their Goaltenders
Nashville came out strong in the first, and pinged a shot off iron on an early power play opportunity. The Stars survived in no small part due to the efforts of Ben Bishop. It wasn’t just the 32 saves overall. Bishop shut down a breakaway, came up huge immediately after P.K. Subban made things interesting, and more subtly, kept the play moving as critical seconds fell off the clock late. It wasn’t Anton Khudobin’s 49-save masterpiece, but it was a huge, huge game from Dallas’ primary netminder.
2 — Dallas Plays A Fast Series, Nashville Plays A Physical Series
Just ask Jason Dickinson, or watch Nashville’s opening goal. Step one was physicality on the forecheck, step two was Roman Josi dancing into the middle of the ice, and step three was a goal. The Predators delivered 14 hits in the first period and 24 across the entire game. Dallas, meanwhile, registered 14 total. You know what? That’s fine. The Stars adjusted, kept the puck moving, and found ways to skate past Nashville’s heavy forecheck. Dallas is better served playing their game with a 2-to-1 hitting deficit than chasing physical parity.
If you want to see the type of physical play Dallas needs, look at Tyler Seguin tracking Victor Arvidsson in the slot, or Jamie Benn battling behind the net before the third goal.
3 — Miro Heiskanen Was A Very Good Draft Pick
The Stars’ ace defender became one of the youngest in NHL history to register two goals in his playoff debut (Glen Wesley and Phil Housley are the other two defenders who hold that honor). He also is the youngest defenseman in Dallas Stars and North Stars franchise history to score a postseason goal. He should win the Calder this year, or at least finish in the top three, and he’s already won the hearts of Stars fans. His patience and release on the first goal were otherworldly.
4 — Mats Zuccarello Was A Great Pickup
Head coach Jim Montgomery played all sorts of games with Benn, Seguin, and Alexander Radulov. The presence of Zuccarello was a big part of that. Ignore Zuccarello’s goal for a second, and you can see how the free agent forward creates a cascade of options throughout Dallas’ forward group. Now, stop ignoring the goal. The diminutive forward came up with a timely tally and gave the Stars an early 1-0 series lead.
5 — Jason Spezza Would Have Helped
This is, apparently, the hill upon which I am going to die. The Stars went 1-for-3 on the power play and registered 29 shots on goal. Those are not bad numbers, and the Stars did win a one-goal playoff game. Still, Spezza adds a unique dimension to the offense, even if only on special teams. If deployed adroitly, his hands, patience, and vision could go a long way to diffusing the heavy, aggressive style of the Predators. Oh, by the way, they won 38% of their face-offs tonight. There are limitations in his game that make deploying Spezza a tricky proposition, but if Montgomery can manage, it could mean the difference between an oh-so-close loss and a victory.